Poetry from NER 42.2 (2021)
I’ve been thinking about things lifted
into the sky. Szymborska gets lung cancer
and is whisked into the clouds. Muhammad Ali
floats the way he always said he would, but this time,
doesn’t return to the ground. Stephen Hawking
shuts his eyes and merges with one
of the black holes he so adored while on Earth.
Each year, this is more frequent.
David Bowie. Toni Morrison. Stan Lee.
Onto the platform. The doors close. Up they go.
Meteor showers. Sun halos. Occultations.
There’ve been others, less publicized,
less luminous figures, but absences I feel
nonetheless. I’ve been told they’re up there as well.
My uncle. My mother-in-law. Blair.
Jason. Stephanie. Chris. Dark matter.
Moon dust. A haze across the firmament.
The work behind the scenes to get them
from here to there is invisible and precise:
You must examine the endless chain,
the lifting drum, the tension pulley,
the counterweight. Double and triple check
the sling, the governor, the buffer, the sheave.
Ascension is harrowing. Grief is heavy.
The hoist cable must never waver.
It must bear the unbearable.
Your vocation is difficult and unglamorous;
I commend you upon your arrival at this threshold.
Next week, I’ll go to the hospital to have
a minor procedure. A routine surgery to remove
a small area of concern. I’ll walk through
two double-doors, press a button, and—
if all goes well—go up and come back down.
I have no idea how this operation will unfold;
I’m full of doubt, rockslides, and falling blackbirds, but
I continue because I believe
you’ve faithfully scrutinized
the guiderail, the load sensor, the limiter.
When any of us step into an elevator, we know
the shaft around the car is just emptiness.
A stillness overhead. A breeze-swept darkness.
Everything motionless, quiet. Then, far above,
some sleek engine begins to whir;
its wheel begins to turn.